Monday, May 11, 2015

Rubber Stamp Governor ... Crockett Buzz 5-11-15

Sunday column: Gathering gubernatorial goodwill by signing everything in sight

Gov. Bill Haslam has signed everything the Legislature put on his desk this year, while the legislators have spurned his highest priority of the session and messed around with some of the secondary stuff he put before them.
Probably the most notable affixing of the gubernatorial signature of the session came on the so-called “guns-in-parks” bill, for which Haslam had repeatedly declared distaste. He had been widely expected to let the bill become law without his signature, but wound up balking at even that symbolic gesture.
In a somewhat lame statement, Haslam basically said he still didn’t like it, but, hey, the final version was a “vast improvement” over the original, so what the heck. No reason to annoy those members of the supermajority that he’s trying to get along with better, right?
A veto could have delayed the effective date of the law for almost a year, since legislators would have had to wait until 2016 to come back into session and override. A few more months of letting local governments decide whether to let handgun carry permit holders pack their pistols in local parks, a notion the governor supports, would have been gained. LINK

State pays $5.85 million for lawmaker health insurance

Most members of the Tennessee General Assembly are enrolled in the state's health insurance plan for employees and providing that coverage to lawmakers has cost the state $5.85 million since 2008, according to records provided to The Tennessean on Friday. Lawmakers themselves paid $1.4 million for their health coverage.
The Tennessean requested the documents after lawmakers voted against Gov. Bill Haslam's Insure Tennessee proposal. Insure Tennessee would have helped working people who can't afford medical insurance buy into their employer-sponsored plans and would have expanded Medicaid coverage for poor people. Federal tax dollars and money from the Tennessee Hospital Association would have paid for the program.
The state Benefits Administration allowed a reporter to view the records on Wednesday but delayed releasing copies on Thursday as lawmakers raised objections over privacy concerns. The Tennessean on Friday paid $622.22 for copies of records on current lawmakers dating back to 2008 and continues to seek additional documents that help shed light on how much the benefits have cost taxpayers. LINK

Haslam signs new licensing requirements for abortion clinics into Tennessee law

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam has signed a bill into law placing licensing restrictions on abortion clinics.
Under the new law, facilities or physician offices would have to be licensed as ambulatory surgical treatment centers if they perform more than 50 abortions in a year.
The House approved the measure on an 81-17 vote, while the Senate passed its version 28-4.
Haslam has yet to sign a separate bill to require a 48-hour waiting period before an abortion but has indicated that he plans to. LINK

TN health care: Good for the goose, not the gander?

What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander."
The meaning of the old English proverb is lost on the members of the Tennessee General Assembly.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2013, only 24 percent of part time workers could participate in employer-subsidized health care plans. Members of our legislature are among that privileged class.
The General Assembly finds itself in the company of some of America's most enlightened and respected employers, including Starbucks, Whole Foods, Costco, Lowes, UPS, Staples, Nike, Land's End and U-Haul, which see regular part-time employees as valuable contributors to their organizations' success.
Our legislature is, by law, part time. It limits itself to no more than 90 "legislative days" per two-year term and 15 organizational days at the start of the term. Legislators get an annual base salary of $19,009, plus a per diem of $171 each legislative day (for up to the 90 legislative days, no more expense money if the legislature meets longer). Legislators also get $1,000 per month to subsidize an office in their district.
Though not a pittance, it is not a lot of money for the time most legislators dedicate to their part time job. It is commendable that voters value their elected legislators sufficiently to offer participation in the state's health insurance plan as part of their compensation package. Legislators who participate pay 20 percent of the premiums, the state pays the rest.
Since 2008, legislators have paid $1.4 million in premiums to participate in the plan; taxpayers contributed $5.8 million toward the premiums. LINK

Pat Nolan: Capitol View Commentary

Even when the U.S. House of Representatives is not in session, the culture wars rage on.
This latest fight began when the City Council in the District of Columbia passed a broadening of the definitions in the Reproductive Non-Discrimination Act (according to the Washington Post). Under the new law, employers will not be able to discriminate against employees who seek contraception or family planning services. Employers also cannot act against employees when they know they have used medical treatments to initiate or terminate a pregnancy.
Conservatives cried foul and even after the D.C. Council softened the change in the law by saying it won't apply to religious organizations, an effort was mounted in Congress (sponsored by Tennessee Representative Diane Black) to overturn the measure. Congress has the power to do that.
House Joint Resolution 43 is also called the “Religious Liberty Act” and it's gotten push back in turn from Democrats in Congress. That includes Nashville Representative Jim Cooper who says the measure “turns back the clock to the Dark Ages, allowing women to be fired for using birth control, having a baby or using fertility treatments. This treats women like second-class citizens.”
But don't expect anything to really be resolved in this fight. The Joint Resolution has passed the House (narrowly) and still must pass the Senate (where it probably won't).  LINK

Congress shouldn't 'kick the can' on highway funding

Congress often opts to “kick the can down the road” on serious budget issues that require long-term solutions. One such shoddy quick fix was a vote last year to move $10 billion from the general fund to bandage the nation’s bleeding Highway Trust Fund.
It appears another such short-term remedy is again in the works on Capitol Hill. That’s bad news for states, which have been forced to compensate for dwindling federal highway funds. It’s particularly hard on Tennessee, which has it’s own difficulties in meeting state transportation needs.
Tennessee lawmakers wrapped up work last month without finding new revenues to cover the costs of much-needed bridge and highway projects.
Following the vote on the last transfer from the Highway Trust Fund, U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., told the Press he believes this solution amounts to nothing less than a “theft from future generations that is not paid for.” He’s right.
Corker has a better idea for restoring the Highway Trust Fund to solvency. He has joined U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., in sponsoring legislation to hike the current 18.4-cents-a-gallon federal gas tax and 24.4-cents-a-gallon diesel tax by 12 cents each over the next two years.
The new tax rates would also be indexed to keep pace with inflation. The increase would be levied in two increments of 6 cents each.LINK

Billy Moore: Washington Update

The Senate was in session last week while the House took recess. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell showed his partisan and institutional abilities, passing a partisan budget conference agreement that protects vulnerable Republican incumbents and facing down some of his most bitterly partisan colleagues to pass an Iran nuclear review measure that asserts the institutional interests of Congress. Both chambers return this week to a packed agenda that will be difficult to fulfill in the 8 legislative days remaining before the Memorial Day break.
On Thursday, senators voted 98-1 to give Congress a say in a final international agreement with Iran on nuclear development, a significant McConnell victory over fellow Republicans who sought to derail the measure with poison pill amendments.  The measure now moves to the House, where Speaker John Boehner faces a similar challenge with some Republican representatives.
The House is scheduled this week to debate the Defense authorization and an anti-abortion measure – stripped of restrictions on a rape exception that derailed the bill in January.  The House also plans to debate a surveillance overhaul measure that would respond to privacy concerns surrounding National Security Agency surveillance programs and a Circuit Court of Appeals decision that the program goes beyond the authority granted by Congress. Senate Republican leaders oppose the measure.
Senate Leader McConnell hopes to advance fast-track authority to allow the president to negotiate trade deals without the possibility of congressional amendment. Senate Democrats plan to vote no unless the bill is paired with legislation to help retrain workers displaced because of trade pacts.  Democrats also insist that a highway bill (the current program expires May 31) be sequenced before the trade measure.
The highway bill is a temporary extension until Congress can work out a long-term deal later this year, perhaps paired with a corporate tax reform measure.

Crockett Policy Institute

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